Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 20, 2008

Marxists for Obama: a bumpy road ahead

Filed under: Obama,socialism — louisproyect @ 5:03 pm

Carl Davidson: has his work cut out for him

The pro-Obama, self-described Marxist left has a tough job on its hands. Well before taking office, Obama has made it painfully obvious that his administration will be in effect Clinton’s third term. With Mrs. Clinton about to assume the office of Secretary of State, a perfect symbol of the kind of bellicose foreign policy that the dovish President-elect campaigned against, one wonders whether the primary was just some kind of elaborate deception foisted on a gullible public yearning for change.

Perhaps nobody with Marxist credentials after a fashion is better qualified to serve as a spin doctor for the incoming Obama administration than Carl Davidson, the 65 year old 1960s SDS leader and editor of the Guardian newspaper, a New Left weekly newspaper that morphed into a Maoist publication around the same time that the shards of SDS were launching the New Communist Movement. The New Communist Movement, embodied in sects like Bob Avakian’s RCP, styled itself after the CPUSA before it became “revisionist”. In keeping with their neo-Stalinist ambitions, such groups became past masters at lying through their teeth and opportunist politics, including a turn toward the Democratic Party. In realigning with the 150 year old party of racism and imperialist war, they came full circle. If SDS had resolved to go “part of the way with LBJ”, many of its veterans who came to embrace the DP were now ready to go all the way with Obama.

In a prolix article titled “The Bumpy Road Ahead: New Tasks of the Left Following Obama’s Victory” that was posted to Portside, a mailing list moderated by the Eurocommunist Committees of Correspondence, Davidson uses every trick he learned in the neo-Stalinist milieu to shore up support for Obama and discredit his opponents on the left who are stigmatized as “ultraleft” for their opposition to the “war on terror”, Wall Street bailouts, Zionism and other disgusting policies about to be carried out by the Democrats.

After reminding us of what a breakthrough it was to have a Black president (an observation that will likely begin to wear thin after a year or so of DP misrule), Davidson attempts to explain Obama’s presidency in class terms:

The Obama team at the top is comprised of global capital’s representatives in the U.S. as well as U.S. multinational capitalists, and these two overlap but are not the same. It is a faction of imperialism, and there is no need for us to prettify it, deny it or cover it up in any way. The important thing to see is that it is neither neoliberalism nor the old corporate liberalism. Obama is carving out a new niche for himself, a work in progress still within the bounds of capitalism, but a ‘high road’ industrial policy capitalism that is less state-centric and more market- based in its approach, more Green, more high tech, more third wave and participatory, less politics-as- consumerism and more ‘public citizen’ and education focused. In short, it’s capitalism for a multipolar world and the 21st century.

For those a bit puzzled by the reference to “third wave”, this is the very same buzzword coined by Alvin Toffler to describe a post-industrial society. The first wave was composed of small farms and the second is synonymous with the industrial revolution. Needless to say, this schema developed by a former editor of Fortune magazine has little to do with Marxism. Davidson, a computer consultant, became smitten with the idea a couple of decades ago and promoted it as part of a high-tech driven brand of market socialism called “cyRev”. I analyzed his theories in an article that can be read here. As an unrepentant Marxist, I felt quite put off by the kind of Silicon Valley boosterism that pervaded cyRev:

In our view of socialism, we affirm the entrepreneurial spirit, the motivating energy of the market and the right of individuals to become wealthy through the private ownership of the capital they have helped to create. At the same time, we fundamentally reorder priorities in how both property and capital is defined. While both personal property and capital may still be owned by individuals, we no longer see ownership as an absolute power. Property, especially productive property in the form of capital, is to be seen primarily as a social power relation that can be guided and regulated, just as other power relations are regulated for the common good of society. Incomes are also subject to progressive taxation.

Beyond the “third wave” nonsense, one has to wonder what use it is to speak of “neoliberalism” as some kind of bogey man. Terms such as “neoliberalism” and “globalization” do not have very much use in understanding the dynamics of the American economy or divisions within the bourgeoisie for that matter. For example, trade agreements such as NAFTA are generally understood to be symbols of neoliberalism but there is little likelihood that Obama will do anything to overturn them. Furthermore, in choosing Eric Holder as his Attorney General, Obama has shown indifference to imperialist crimes (a term I find more useful than neoliberalism or globalization) in Colombia, as WBAI reporter Mario Murillo points out:

In 2003, an Organization of American States report showed that Chiquita’s subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex, had helped divert weapons and ammunition, including thousands of AK-47s, from Nicaraguan government stocks to the AUC. The AUC – very often in collaboration with units of the U.S.-trained Armed Forces – is responsible for hundreds of massacres of primarily peasants throughout the Colombian countryside, including in the banana-growing region of Urabá, where it is believed that at least 4,000 people were killed. Their systematic use of violence resulted in the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of poor Colombians, a disproportionate amount of those people being black or indigenous.

In 2004, Holder helped negotiate an agreement with the Justice Department for Chiquita that involved the fruit company’s payment of “protection money” to the AUC, in direct violation of U.S. laws prohibiting this kind of transaction. In the agreement brokered by Holder, Chiquita officials pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a fine of $25 million, to be paid over a 5-year period. However, not one Chiquita official involved in the illegal transactions was forced to serve time for a crime that others have paid dearly for, mainly because they did not have the kind of legal backing that Holder’s team provided. Holder continues to represent Chiquita in the civil action, which grew out of this criminal case.

Trying in vain to cover his opportunist politics with a Marxist veneer, Davidson tries to explain the Obama “alliance” (i.e., Wall Street investment banks and the moveon.org member operating a computer from his bedroom) in terms of Gramscian “hegemonic blocs”:

What is a hegemonic bloc? Most power elites maintain their rule using more than armed force. They use a range of tools to maintain hegemony, or dominance, which are ‘softer,’ meaning they are political and cultural instruments as well as economic and military. They seek a social base in the population, and draw them into partnership and coalitions through intermediate civil institutions. Keeping this bloc together requires a degree of compromise and concession, even if it ultimately relies on force. The blocs are historic; they develop over time, are shaped by the times, and also have limited duration. When external and internal crises disrupt and lead them to stagnation, a new ‘counter-hegemonic’ bloc takes shape, with a different alignment of economic interests and social forces, to challenge it and take its place. These ideas were first developed by the Italian communist and labor leader, Antonio Gramsci, and taken up again in the 1960s by the German New Left leader, Rudi Dutschke. They are helpful, especially in nonrevolutionary conditions, in understanding both how our adversaries maintain their power, as well as the strategy and tactics needed to replace them, eventually by winning a new socialist and popular democratic order.

This, of course, is just a bunch of malarkey. For Gramsci, the goal was not to work within hegemonic blocs in alliance with the bourgeoisie, but to create counter-hegemonic blocs led by the working class and a (genuine) vanguard party. In a useful article on the relevance of Gramsci to today’s struggles that appeared in the journal Socialism and Democracy, Thomas J. Butko noted:

It is clear to Gramsci that the first stage in a war of position must involve the dissemination of new ideas by the counter-hegemonic bloc to intellectually, culturally, and morally prepare the ground for the revolutionary force and its ascent to hegemonic dominance. In this context, it is only by persuasively demonstrating to society at large that its conception of the world is inherently superior to those of the dominant powers that such a counter-hegemonic force can conquer civil society and eventually exert its political leadership.

In any case, for those who take their Gramsci seriously, the task today as it was in the 1920s is to challenge the dominant powers, as Butko puts it. If Davidson is intent on maneuvering within the hegemonic bloc, that of course is his privilege as long as he understands that this has nothing to do with Marxism.

In a section titled “The Bankruptcy of the Ultraleft”, Davidson castigates a wide range of opponents who refused to get on the Obama bandwagon, namely the “Trotskyist, anarchist and Maoist left.” (For obvious reasons, Davidson does not refer to Counterpunch or Znet since these outlets of opposition to Obama can not be dismissed to the margins of the left. Counterpunch gets something like 100,000 unique visits a day, hardly the stuff of the Spartacist League.)

As opposed to these wreckers and splitters, the ones who “got it right” in his words were the CCDS (Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, cc-ds.org, ) the Communist Party USA, cpusa.org, and Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO, freedomroad.org). He also puts in a good word for DSA “which at least saw the importance of defeating McCain and backing Obama, even though they only managed to put out a rather wimpy pro-forma statement without once mentioning race.”

He is also peeved at “the sixty or more Indymedia sites, and you hardly see anything useful said besides macho bluster and shit-talk against the few pro-voting-for-Obama postings put up.” All of these ultraleftists were content to bark at a “united Black communist” and “the best elements of labor”:

‘You’re deluded!’ You’re Obamaniacs! ‘You’re wrong!’ ‘Obama is a capitalist!’ ‘Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid! Obama is the more dangerous warmonger because he’s the new ‘Uncle Tom’ Black face of imperialism!’

Of course, for this kind of harangue to have any effect, you must make sure to put words in the mouths of your adversary. As somebody who has written a fair amount against Obama, including an article on his economic advisers that has been read by nearly 18,000 people to date, I don’t traffic in crude reductionisms like “Obama is a capitalist”. My main problem with Obama in fact is that he does not even operate as a Democratic Party liberal. Here is a snippet from the aforementioned article:

Another adviser with a particular interest in health care is David Cutler, a Harvard economist who was also an adviser to Bill Clinton-surprise, surprise. Cutler wrote an article for the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 asserting that “The rising cost … of health care has been the source of a lot of saber rattling in the media and the public square, without anyone seriously analyzing the benefits gained.”

Anxious to show the good side of rising costs, Cutler and a group of other economists defend the idea that a powerful and profitable medical industry can serve as an engine of economic growth in the USA as the wretched Gina Kolata reported in the August 22, 2006 NY Times.

It is not worth correcting all the errors in Davidson’s interminable article, so I will just conclude with some comments on a dichotomy he draws between “revolutionary” and “non-revolutionary” conditions:

If the question of the day was immediate working-class mass action on seizing power from the capitalist class, for reform vs. revolution, socialism or capitalism NOW, they might have had a point. But it’s not. Even with the financial crisis, it’s not even close. Besides getting troops out of this or that country, they don’t even have a package of demands or structural reforms worthy of the name being put forward. Worse of all, they don’t think any distinction between revolutionary and non-revolutionary conditions is all that important. What that means, in turn, is that it’s almost impossible for them, as groups and as a trend, to correct their course.

This is really a timeworn argument going back to Eduard Bernstein. During the late 19th century, under conditions of a long imperialist expansion, socialists began to feel that revolution was a far-off ideal whose arrival in the distant future would be commemorated each year at banquets. In the meantime, efforts would be directed toward achieving ameliorative reforms such as the kind that fell under the rubric of “sewer socialism” in the U.S. Of course, whatever else one would say about our socialist forefathers and mothers from 125 years ago, they at least put their energies into building socialist institutions of a counter-hegemonic nature rather than ringing doorbells for a bourgeois politician.

But more to the point, it is entirely possible that we are entering a period that will have much more in common with the one that preceded WWI or WWII as capitalism entered a period of intractable contradictions. With daily reminders of 1929 in the mainstream press, it is incumbent on those who still take their Marxism seriously to begin constructing a counter-hegemonic bloc that can finally put an end to the system that exploits the working class and threatens the future of the planet.

29 Comments »

  1. Incisive as usual, Louis. These “progressive Democrats” and the various ex-SDSers and ex-Maoists who are in the collection have apparently decided to get closer to the capitalist fire in their advancing senility instead of keeping the radical flame lit. Pathetic.

    Comment by David Thorstad — November 20, 2008 @ 5:37 pm

  2. Davidson trolls the web seeking to snuff out anti-Obama postings; you can find him anywhere anyone challenges his new fearless leader. He keeps an eye out especially for Paul Street at ZNet, who has written some very good critiques of Obama.

    Comment by jp — November 20, 2008 @ 7:44 pm

  3. I didn’t mention Z-Net or CounterPunch, not because of their readership, but because they have no organization at the base to do anything with. Same with your readership. And Toffler, by the way, prior to Fortune, worked rather closely with a number of communist groups in Detroit, including in a factory cell, if he was or wasn’t a member.

    Comment by Carl Davidson — November 20, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

  4. You didn’t mention ZNet or Counterpunch, but you mentioned Indymedia.

    A little earlier in the day, Jim F. told me that Toffler was a leftist in his youth. If that was a guide to judging peoples’ eventual trajectory, I’d have to take people like Bill Ayers seriously. No thanks.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 20, 2008 @ 9:11 pm

  5. Davidson nettles genuine progressives because he misuses a fact: the American people today do hope against hope that the Obama administration will makes things a little better.

    In conversation I begin, “The Obama flower is going to wilt in about a year.” That’s respectful of the fact while it opens the way to dialogue.

    Comment by Charles Andrews — November 20, 2008 @ 9:53 pm

  6. I’d take Bill Ayers very seriously on matters of pedagogy, helping ed students become good teachers, principals become better at their job and school reform generally. He’s one of the best in the country.

    As for the Weather Underground crap, leave it dead and buried.

    As for dialogue, we’ve been engaged in serious amounts of it with labor, community and the Obama youth for more than a year now, even before ‘Progressives for Obama’. We’re into organization building at the base for the mobilizations we’ll need to push Obama and whoever he picks. We’ll leave the cafe chatter over the picks to Indymedia and CounterPunch. We all have our own media these days.

    Obama is a liberal speaking to the center. We’re the left who backed him. He has his agenda; we have ours. They overlap on some points, not on others. But we’re mobilizing for ours, inside and outside the Dems, from the bottom upward and outward. If you can’t lend a hand, stay away. Fine by me.

    Comment by carldavidson — November 20, 2008 @ 11:25 pm

  7. The irony is that Davidson claims to be mobilizing for a progressive agenda inside and outside the Dems and “organization building at the base for mass mobilization without any objective evidence to back this claim up – other than his own individual efforts in Western PA via a local PDA chapter. Yet, within his own orbit there is growing alarm and disillusionment about the direction the Obama Administration is taking – something you’ll find largely missing from the articles on the P40 website, but increasingly visable across the progressive blogosphere.

    As for making a break with the rest of the Left, or waging a line struggle within broader mass movements, bring it on. Davidson and Hayden will have the opportunity to do so next month at the UFPJ national assembly in Chicago. They may be in for a surprise.

    As Bob Feldman over at the Rag Blog puts it: (http://theragblog.blogspot.com/2008/11/carl-davidson-bumpy-road-ahead-obama.html>

    “Most anti-imperialist grassroots left activists are more likely to want to see the U.S. anti-war movement break with the Big Media-promoted Democratic Party that supports continued funding of the Pentagon’s war machine than to “decisively break with the ultra-left” anti-war grassroots activists (like Cindy Sheehan) who have been the folks that have most consistently resisted in non-violent ways the endless U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    That’s why Howard Zinn, for example, urged U.S. anti-war voters to vote for Nader recently in the “safe state;” and why grassroots activist sites like the Black Agenda Report site endorsed Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney rather than Obama in the recent 2008 presidential election.

    Urging U.S. anti-imperialist grassroots left activists to “decisively break with the ultra-left” sounds like a re-cycled version of the kind of red-baiting which left-liberal/social democrats like Michael Harrington attempted to push on the New Left in the 1960s, but which was always rejected by non-violent anti-imperialist left grassroots activists like Dave Dellinger.

    Anti-imperialist grassroots left activists in the USA who want to see the U.S. government finally agree to pursue a pacifist foreign policy (which also ends all U.S. government military support for Israeli militarism and promotes full national self-determination rights and the right of return for the Palestinian people)in the 21st-century will probably tend to want to unite with everybody on the U.S. anti-war grassroots left, not just with elitist Democratic Party loyalists within the U.S. anti-war left.”

    Comment by dr — November 21, 2008 @ 7:46 am

  8. You want the US to pursue a ‘pacifist foreign policy’ and you accuse me of liberal illusions? That’s a hoot.

    As for ‘Red-baiting,’ don’t be silly. I’m a Red myself, belonging to a Marxist group. I’m not criticizing any of these groups because they are socialist or communist, but because they have an ultraleft assessment of today’s conditions, and argue the wrong policies and tactics. Nor am I calling for any purges or splits. Splits may happen, but I’m calling for the defeat of a set of ideas and proposals. If someone wants to split as a result, that’s their business.

    As for UFPJ, my point is rather basic. If you want to end this war, you need an antiwar majority in the country, and right now, the vast majority of that majority is pro-Obama, having worked for him or voted for him. If we don’t find the way to unite with them, and joining their antiwar opposition to ours, we won’t move forward. And moving further ‘left,’ becoming an ‘anti-imperialist bloc,’ doesn’t help one bit.

    Comment by Carl Davidson — November 21, 2008 @ 1:08 pm

  9. Here is a passage from a recent piece by Glenn Greenwald which gets to the heart of the issue, it seems to me.

    “They (the Democrats) consider it a good thing — not a bad thing — when they anger their own base. They’re thrilled when they get accused — accurately — of acting like Republicans and supporting right-wing measures, particularly on national security and “terrorism” issues. They consider it a benefit — an incentive — when they are attacked for embracing Republican political policies and violating the principles of their own base.”

    “Progressives for Obama can try to run from the fact that “uniting” with the Democrats means uniting around these principles, but they can’t hide from it.

    The relevant strategic issue is not whether or not to “support Obama-” whatever this means- but rather what mechanisms we have at our disposal or might be capable of organizing so that the worst excesses of the Washington consensus can be scaled back.

    Here a remark by an unidentified “hill staffer” in a Washington Post piece on Lieberman’s maintaining his chairmanship of the Homeland Security is relevant:

    “The left has been foiled again. They can rant and rage but they still do not put the fear into folks to actually change their votes.”

    What the left needs to do is to figure out how to instill “fear” in mainstream Democrats like Obama, and the right wing Democrats (and Republicans) who are, virtually without exception, his likely choices for cabinet positions.

    Insofar as pledging to “unite” with them along the lines Davidson is suggesting will entirely remove “fear” from the table, it is the worst possibly strategy.

    And it will, paradoxically, insure that Obama will become a much worse president than he would otherwise become with an indepedent, adversarial left already viewing him with intense suspicion and ready and willing to organize against him the moment he begins to move on implementing the new variant of the corporate, militarist agenda.

    In short, the call for “unity” amounts to complicity.

    And it will be a disaster for the left and for the nation just as much as a similar complicity of much of the left in the crimes of previous Democratic administrations.

    Comment by John Halle — November 21, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

  10. So let’s take a look at how things are shaping up for progressives dedicated to pursuing an inside strategy with the incoming Obama administration and the Democratic Party. One place to start is Jeremy Scahill’s latest.

    This is Change? 20 Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama’s White House
    - Jeremy Scahill, Alternet
    [ http://www.commondreams.org/view/2008/11/20-6 ]

    Schaill’s latest cautionary warning is just one example of the buyer’s remorse beginning to pop across the progressive blogosphere. And if his assessment is any indication, things are looking bleaker for the Davidson strategy for organizing ‘counterhegemonic blocs” by pandering to the center right — literally by the hour.

    Comment by dr — November 21, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

  11. Carl Davidson is jumping straight back into the “democratic” party morass that has helped the anti-war movement whither away since 2004, and he still thinks that his faction is going to “unite their anti-war movement to our anti-war movement”.

    The problem is that the “democrats” do not have an anti-war movement, and they’ve managed to swallow whole the one that was built, because that movement has not been able to keep critical distance from “democratic” party ideology. The time to do so came and went, and all the energies that went into the anti-war movement of four years back has dissipated.

    Carl Davidson’s anti-war movement, however he sees it, is one in which we accept certain levels of atrocity overseas, and live with the social triaging of certain sections of the workforce here at home in order to advance a domestic program that may benefit some of us. It’s corporate liberalism with a different name, however he sees it.

    Well, we may have to live with it, but we don’t have to endorse it or glorify it. He can use the phrase “ultra-left” all he wants. For my own part, all of my activities are in organizations like the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, which for the most part are at this time pretty moderate branches or friends of the AFof L CIO bureaucracy. I continue to exspress my views on Obamaism in these venues, and work accordingly.

    Ultra-leftism is definitely a problem, one that we all occasionally fall into. But so is tail-ism. And that’s all Davidson has to offer.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — November 21, 2008 @ 7:22 pm

  12. Well Mr. Davidson, I don’t know where you get so much time to patrol the internets for leftists who oppose Obama if the block is as hot as you say it is with you and your cohort organizing to push Obama to the left.

    Comment by eric — November 21, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

  13. Doesn’t take hardly time at all if you know how to use RSS and Google’s various tricks. Leaves me plenty of time for the grassroots, face-to-face stuff.

    Comment by carldavidson — November 21, 2008 @ 8:08 pm

  14. You guys just don’t get it.

    You pass this on:

    “The left has been foiled again. They can rant and rage but they still do not put the fear into folks to actually change their votes.”

    Indeed. That’s what you guys are doing, ranting and raging.

    If you want to ‘put fear into folks,’ you need an organized platform of good ideas that solve immediate problems, independent grassroots groups of organized voters, and some organized money. If you have the three together, you can actually DO politics, rather than talk about it.

    That’s what we’ve been doing throughout this campaign, and now even more so, once the local Obama offices fold, not ‘tailing’ the Dems. If we did, we wouldn’t have anything. We move into the political vacuum. We can and will run inside and outside the Dems, because the thing that you miss, is that for them, there’s no ‘mass’ to their party between elections, and not much during them. It’s all lawyers, consultants, media publicists, and big money. There’s no ‘there’ there at the base. And anyone with any imagination can pull people together. PDA alone is up to 150,000 members without working all that systematically.

    If you think you can stop this war without Obama voters, Obama volunteers and a good number of elected Dems, or that we have to overthrow the Dems to bring all the troops home from Iraq, make you case. I’d love to see it, before passing it on to ‘The Onion.’

    So when you combine a failure of vision and imagination with the fact that you have no plan for base organization, let alone an actual organizations that belong to you and like-minded souls, you can ‘rant and rage,’ just as the man says, but not much more.

    Comment by carldavidson — November 21, 2008 @ 8:26 pm

  15. Three comments in response to Mr. Davidson.

    1) I object to the disrespectful, dismissive tone.
    2) Having competed successfully in two races for elected office, I can do without lectures as to what it means to “do politics.”
    3) As for instilling fear in Democrats, I can assure Mr. Davidson that I know what I’m talking about.

    Comment by John Halle — November 21, 2008 @ 10:52 pm

  16. David Thorstad: Greetings from Minneapolis. Coincidently DJ is writing her memoirs, and I was asked through mutual friend of hers, a question about 1969 Minneapolis radicalism. I wasn’t in the SWP. I see David and Carla Riehle often.

    On to the topic. With Obama in power, the idea of a party based on labor, is easier to bring forward. A labor party would be our 1917. If we had a labor party, Carl could be its rightwing.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — November 22, 2008 @ 1:20 am

  17. Louis,

    This is tangential to your broader point, but I will ask it anyway. Don’t you think you are over-generalizing a bit here about the New Communist Movement and the RCP? Despite paying lip service to Maoism, these seem to be divergent paths, because as far as I know, the RCP never advocated working in the Democratic Party and instead took an ultra-left “Revolution Now!” position far from the Democratic Party.

    My experience in these matters was in the late 80s I dropped out of my brief stint in the SWP’s YSA and was recruited into another brief stint in the LRS-ML (which later merged into Freedom Road). I was turned off by both organizations’ expressions of dogmatism and sectarianism.

    I also was a member of a radical bookstore collective, and perused through most of the party papers that came through there at that time. As you mentioned, the Guardian newspaper, LOM, LRS, and other New Communist Movement groups were active in the Democratic Party and the Jackson campaign back then. By then, the RCP seemed to be of a completely different genus, despite common origins in Maoism of the early 1970s.

    On the broader point. It seems Davidson here acknowledges that Obama should not be expected to be any left or progressive savior. Instead, he still argues that it is still necessary to organize social movements outside of the Democratic Party, as well as work within it. Now people may disagree on the latter point, but broad sectors of the Left at least agree on the former. Certainly the Left can unite on the outside movement strategy.

    And yes, I know I am hopelessly naïve.

    Comment by Sheldon — November 22, 2008 @ 3:40 am

  18. Renegade Eye:
    I dislike having to bring this up, but watch who you commune with, what I mean is, run that guy’s name on a search engine and see what you come up with: a notorious degenerate and foil for right wing demagogues who was rightly kicked out of the workers movement decades ago and who no one on the Left in their right mind wants to be associated with. I also remind you about basic proletarian morality and what happens to people who violate these norms when incarcerated. I apologize as I’m sure you’re a decent guy and weren’t aware of this.
    -SS

    Comment by Sue Sponte — November 22, 2008 @ 8:23 am

  19. Sheldon makes an excellent point. The RCP has never backed DP candidates. They have at least been consistent in supporting the Maoism of their youth, which obviously would have little interest in the DP swamp whatever other errors they are guilty of. The orientation to the DP in the New Communist Movement tends to be associated, upon further reflection, with groups looking to the pre-”revisionist” CPUSA as some kind of model, which strikes me as something that the RCP had no interest in.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 22, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

  20. ‘Disrespectful, dismissive tone?’ From me or what’s said about me? Whatever happened to ‘what’s good for the goose….’ Actually, I mean no disrespect, and apologize for any taken, but dismissive is another matter.

    Comment by Carl Davidson — November 22, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

  21. If you want some insight into the matter, there were two wings to pro-China US ML groups of the 1970s. One, Avakians’ and Jerry Tung’s, were lined up with ‘Gang of Four.’ The others were more in tune with Chou En-Lai and his trend. After the death of Mao and the arrest of the Gang, the RCP was out in the cold. The RCP has devolved into the ‘Cult of Bob,’ and is presently breaking up. All the others didn’t survive the general crisis in socialism and Marxism, save for the small two wings of FRSO, which are still around.

    But none of them were enamoured of Dems or elections.

    In the CPML, my group, one of the largest ones, we briefly worked on Barry Commoner’s Citizen’s Party in 1980, and perhaps a Black Democrat or two in the Deep South. But we were gone by 1982. The LRS continued for a few more years, and did take part in the Harold Washington election and Jesse Jackson primary campaigns, but that’s about it.

    The Harold Washington campaign is an interesting one. There were three candidates. Richard Daley ran on the Unity Party line, with all the traditional real estate interests and Dem machine. Eddie Vrydoliak ran on the ‘Solidarity Party line, with the backing of South Chicago’s Dem machine and gangster elements. Harold ran on the Dem line, with the Black community, Latinos, 1960s new left and the wealthier Lakefront liberals. We had the labor leadership, but 90 percent of white workers vote for against the Dems and for Daley or Vrydoliak.

    So if you really wanted to split up the Democratic Party, and vote with the most progressive elements of labor and Blacks, what would you do?

    Ironically, the correct vote against the Dem machine and to further weaken it, would be to cast a vote for Harold and the Dem line on the ballot.

    I organized an independent group, ‘Peace Voters for Harold.’ We worked the white and Latino wards for him, helped him, along with VVAW guys , to do security against Vrydoliak’s goons who were into racist assaults on Harold’s rallies, and raised some money for him in Blue Bars frequented by young whites.

    It was a lesson in Goethe’s point: ‘Theory is gray, but life is green…’

    And yes, if there was a labor party, and all the Trotskyists were the left wing, being a neo-Bukharinite these days, I’d certainly be on its right wing.

    Comment by Carl Davidson — November 22, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

  22. Atleast one FRSO has taken a position like Carl’s, only less sophisticated. This group led the demonstrations against the Republican Nat’l Convention, with slogans against the “Republican agenda.”

    The root of the dispute between Carl and Louis, is goals. Maoism believes in blocks with liberal bourgeoisie, and Trotskyism doesn’t. If you believe in as a positive force, progressive capitalists, than supporting Dems make sense. Maoists support class collaborative groups as FARC, the leaders of Nepal etc, PFLP. None of these groups have a socialist agenda.

    Carl is taking part in this discussion and that is to be complimented. FRSO ducks from discussion like this. They would answer by changing the subject to whether FARC should be supported.

    RCP had an empty don’t vote line like PL.

    The Sparts say that PL entered pro-Obama get out the vote drives.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — November 22, 2008 @ 4:42 pm

  23. The PLP microgroup abandoned Maoism in 1967, attacking Mao himself as a ‘Red boss.’ And they did join a few Obama youth voter drives, so they could get closer to the kids and then denounce Obama and call for ‘full communism now everywhere’–’unite to expose,’ I think they called it. So they managed to be to the right of the Sparts tactically, but to the left of them program-wise. A neat trick.

    But this is a very small pond, indeed.

    So to the main point, yes. Call it class-collaboration, if you like, but it all depends, in my book, on collaboration FOR WHAT? When you demand jobs, aren’t you demanding the growth of more capitalists who hire and pay the new hires? Or at least that current one grow into larger firms with more employees? Even if you demand public works jobs with the state as employer, aren’t we expanding state capitalism then? In that sense, even Trotsky’s transitional program has a subtext of class collaboration.

    I frame it differently. The goal is the same, socialism as the transitional form to a classless society. Only I’d rather not fight all my enemies at once, but crush them one batch at a time, growing a little stronger after each one. Think Pac-Man! I’ll let you guys keep ‘class vs. class’ as strategy. It sound good, and has a nice ring to it, but doesn’t get you very far.

    Comment by Carl Davidson — November 22, 2008 @ 10:13 pm

  24. I agree with Louis that those of us who believe in the democratic administration and distribution of the means of production will their never achieve that goal if we subordinate our movement-building efforts to the work of the Democratic Party. But I find the rather abstract debate over “support” for an Obama candidacy/Administration that appears here disconcerting and almost as tiresome as the corresponding attempts to dispute the relative merits of American Trotskyism and Maoism. Missing from the polemics on both sides are any concrete ideas for building the independent political activity that might advance either working class power or the relevance of socialism in the present moment. Nor is there any serious discussion of the relationship between the not-so-subterranean forces that have pushed elites in the direction of state intervention and a potential left, programmatic response to the this. Louis, you’re clearly a bright guy who takes his Marxism seriously and tries to be mindful in a critical way of your experiences in and beyond the Trotskyist movement. But I wish you’d spend less time criticizing the illusions of left Obama-ists and a little more delineating the issues of the moment and analyzing how a revitalized American left might addressed and organize around them. (One wonders whether your relentless criticism of Davidson’s illusions represents an inability to detail an alternative.) Carl, you’re right about reds needing to be where the mass activity is, but it makes no sense to be there if all that distinguishes you from the rest of those striving to “get out the vote” is your political history and pedigree. In any case, I wish you’d go easy on over-simplified applications of Gramsci and Bukharin – theory has never been your strong suit – and focus as well on the concrete analysis of the concrete conditions at hand. The dilemma of the labor movement and radical left’s relationship with the Democratic Party in America and Social Democracy in Europe reflects deep and important problems that revolutionary socialist must face. But sectarian gutter sniping about whose legacy compels us to repeat this or that ‘left’ or ‘right’ error will not serve that end.

    Comment by burghardt — November 23, 2008 @ 6:39 am

  25. Burghardt, I wrote a 30-page paper and managed two ‘Progressives for Obama’ blogs with hundreds of postings that do what you’re calling for–concrete analysis of concrete conditions, proposals for independent politics rooted in the labor movement, and platforms for deep structural reform, including David Schweickart’s ‘Buyout, not Bailout’ proposals for Economic Democracy as a bridge to socialism.

    Where some on the left have simply said ‘nationalize’ the auto industry, together with a group of like-minded socialists, I’ve come back with ‘Buy-Out’ when it get to penny stock status, which it nearly is already, then lease the plants to UAW, partnered with some Green car engineers, let each plant pick new managers, one-worker, one-vote, pay their lease to a partnered area-wide group of credit unions to launch new pro-union businesses or upgrade old ones, but tie the whole package to single-payer, the lack of which is one big reason they’re in trouble in the first place.

    That’s a version of the ‘solidarity economy’ as well as Schweickart’s Economic Democracy, and a bridge to socialism on the micro level, except the auto industry isn’t so micro.

    Proyect here has made a fetish of voting for any Democrat ever as the ultimate litmus test, not me. The difference is I’ve actually helped develop some local organizations in the working class, and among its allies, that can actually do something.

    I think concern over the Sparts, PLP and such is kind of a weird joke. I do it as comic relief, not serious left politics.

    Comment by Carl Davidson — November 23, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

  26. Ironically, although some post-1975 Democratic Party professional politicians within the 21s-century U.S. anti-war movement claimed to be opposed to the work that the Pentagon’s Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) weapons research think-tank was doing under Columbia University’s institutional sponsorship in 1968, the Obama campaign that some of these folks endorsed in 2008 accepted over $17,000 in campaign contributions from IDA staffpeople in 2008.

    Yet most grassroots anti-imperialist left pacifist activists within the U.S. anti-war movement still usually don’t think that a war-preparation weapons research organization such as IDA should exist, still usually favor massive cuts in the Pentagon’s budget and still usually support the establishment of a pacifist U.S. foreign policy.

    Strangely, some “Marxist-liberals” within the Democratic Party, however, apparently now seem to be opposed to demanding that a pacifist U.S. foreign policy be established in 2009; and, strangely, seem to be claiming that it’s “utopian” and “liberal” for anti-imperialist left pacifist activists to now make demands on a Democratic administration to finally adopt a pacifist foreign policy of unilateral disarmament, closing of all U.S. foreign military bases, support for Palestinian national rights, etc. in 2009.

    But one reason New Left activists in the 1960s were able to to broaden their mass base among large numbers of white anti-war youth, despite not having as much Big Media access on a day-to-day basis as the Democratic Party politicians, was that they weren’t afraid to make demands for an anti-militarist, pacifist foreign policy of unilateral disarmament and an end to U.S. university complicity with Pentagon weapons research think-tanks like the Institute for Defense Analyses. So I don’t think it makes any political sense, I think, for grassroots anti-imperialist left pacifist activists to not make pacifist, anti-militarist and anti-imperialist demands from the street on the Democratic Administration in 2009. Especially when anti-imperialist left websites like CounterPunch seem to have regularly gotten more daily visitors than did the websites of Big Media-sanctioned/Democratic Party-oriented groups like “Progressives for Obama,” etc., during the recent 2008 presidential election campaign.

    Comment by bob f. — November 26, 2008 @ 8:06 pm

  27. I agree with this critique.

    The anti-war movement disappeared completely after hitching-up to the Democratic Party. As a result, there will be no independent, protest pressure on Obama to change course on foreign policy. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran will be bombed and the pseudo-left in the DP will accept this uncritically.

    Carl Davidson misuses Gramsci and the notion of historical blocs. Gramsci was a solid Leninist.

    Carl Davidson doesn’t understand neoliberalism — Obama has not proposed anything outside the dominant patterns of neoliberal capitalism.

    Most importantly, Davidson is all fluff — he doesn’t offer anything concrete; he doesn’t mention any real organizations that can do anything he suggests; he doesn’t even cite any real organizing space inside or outside the DP to do what he wants. It is all fluff and dreams designed to rope the left into uncritical support for Obama.

    The left must work outside and against the DP. Yes, we must engage the political process, but always from a perspective of protest and opposition, never as an ally.

    There is no hope for change in and through the DP.

    Comment by john.williams — November 27, 2008 @ 4:10 pm

  28. “The left must work outside and against the DP. Yes, we must engage the political process, but always from a perspective of protest and opposition, never as an ally.”

    Late one night last week I had a “brainstorm” that still sounds like it might make some sense: entryism into the Republican Party. Reviving Radical Republicanism, “putting the Red back into the red states,” etc. Keep in mind that in the the second half of the 19th century the Republicans were usually to the Left of the Democrats, pushing for the abolition of slavery and then Reconstruction, against the Trusts, against “filibustering” in Latin America, etc.

    The so-called Democrats are a lost cause, for reasons Proyect puts so well; it’s also rather obvious that the American electorate is still not ready for outright revolution and indeed can’t even wrap its collective mind around the idea of a third party. (E.g., “I’m not voting for Nader because he can’t win because nobody will vote for him because he can’t win; I saw it on Fox News so it must be TRUE!”) Maybe, instead of continuing this boring reciprocal cattiness over the same thing self-described Leftists have been reciprocally catty over for a couple generations now, we should consider a strategy that hasn’t been tried by “our side” since the Wilson administration, but that worked rather well for the Christian fascists and the Right-Shactmanite “Neo-Cons.”

    “There is no hope for change in and through the DP.”

    The issue, as I see it, is whether there’s any hope at all.

    Comment by David — December 4, 2008 @ 8:53 pm

  29. [...] A Bumpy Road Ahead,” Louis Proyect: the Unrepentant Marxist (November 20, 2009), read at http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2008/11/20/marxists-for-obama-a-bumpy-road-ahead/.”For Gramsci, ” Proyect noted, “the goal was not to work within hegemonic blocs [...]

    Pingback by The (Fading) Call of Obama. By Paul Street « Kanan48 — December 25, 2009 @ 3:55 am


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